Brazilians protest President Bolsonaro's response to the pandemic
Thousands took to the streets across Brazil on Saturday to protest against President Jair Bolsonaro's pandemic response, blasting the leader for not acquiring vaccines fast enough and for questioning the need for mask-wearing.
Brazil is expected to surpass 500,000 deaths from COVID-19 when official figures are released later on Saturday, the world's highest death toll after the United States.
The government faces fierce criticism for passing up earlier opportunities to buy vaccines. Pharmaceutical maker Pfizer said it got no response to early offers to sell vaccines to the government between August and November last year.
"We are protesting against the genocidal Bolsonaro government that did not buy vaccines and has done nothing to take care of its people in the last year," said 36-year-old Aline Rabelo, while protesting on the national mall in Brasilia.
Bolsonaro's press office did not immediately respond to request for comment. Only 11% of Brazilians are fully vaccinated and 29% have received a first dose, Health Ministry data shows.
Brazil's largest broadcaster Globo reported that by early afternoon, protests had been held in at least 44 cities in 20 states.
Demonstrators widely alleged that the nearly 500,000 dead was a form of genocide carried out by the government on the Brazilian people, holding up signs demanding Bolsonaro be removed for office while chanting and beating drums.
While organizers promised the largest demonstrations yet in more than 300 cities, gatherings in Rio de Janeiro and Brasilia on Saturday morning did not appear to be larger than the last major protests on May 29.
Protests in Sao Paulo, Brazil's largest city, were scheduled to begin in the afternoon.
A special Senate committee is probing the Bolsonaro administration's pandemic response, highlighting the government's delayed efforts to acquire vaccines while prioritizing unproven treatments for COVID-19.